Texas Almanac, 1984-1985 Page: 33
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THE BORDERLANDS 33
day Tampico and east of the Sierra Madre Oriental as a
sanctuary for raids into the Spanish mining colonies.
International pressures also were growing. The French
and English were becoming more aggressive in the
Gulf of Mexico. After seven years of study, Spanish offi-
cials selected Jose de Escandon as colonizer in 1746.
A native of Santander in Spain, the namesake for
the new province, Escandon had enlisted in the military
at age 15 and had gained a reputation as a tough indian
fighter and a competent administrator in the pacifica-
tion of the indians in Queretaroin Central Mexico. He is
recognized as one of the most successful colonial ad-
ministrators in Spanish history.
In 1747, Escandon commissioned a 7-pronged sur-
vey of the territory ranging from Tampico on the south
to the Nueces River on the north and as far west as
present-day Laredo. A year later, he began establishing
a series of settlements throughout the area, selecting
the best sites based on the survey. Camargo, Revilla
(now Guerrero, Tamaulipas) and Reynosa along the
Rio Grande were among the first settled, and the first
colony branching north of the river was established in
the Rio Grande City area.
EARLY land grants were made in common. Large
acreages were set aside for groups of settlers so
they could live in tightly knit communities for com-
mon defense. In a departure from previous colonization
practices, Escandon did not initially bring soldiers into
his new colony; instead weapons were provided for the
colonists, who he believed would do a better job of self-
Dolores, near San Ygnacio in Zapata County, was
the first colony established wholly north of the river. By
1755, a ferry operated by Jose Vasquez Borrego, an
original colonist, handled much of the traffic into Texas
because Indian hostilities had made crossing near San
Juan Bautista too dangerous.
In many cases, settlers already were on land near
the Rio Grande. Escandon approved grants to formal-
ize their rights to property. Such was the case with
Tomas Sanchez, who had begun ranching operations at
Laredo, formally established with the assignment of a
grant to Sanchez by Escandon in 1755. Within three
years, Laredo - with five major roads linking it with
other colonies, a ferry and two excellent fords on the
Rio Grande - became a transportation hub.
Although most.of, the new settlements were on the
Mexican side of the Rio Grande, grants were issued for
land north of the river. Many modern residents of the
Valley trace their ancestry to these settlers. Grants
were issued from Reynosa, for example, for' land near
today's cities of McAllen and Pharr.
Ranching prospered along the river, as did some
agriculture, and the settlements were soon self-sup-
porting. Salt deposits near present-day Edinburg also
were mined to exchange for tools and other necessities.
By 1767, the river settlements were stable enough
for the government to begin allocating the common
lands to individuals in grants called "porciones." Be-
cause access to water was so vital, the porciones usually
began with narrow frontages of less than a mile in width
on rivers and extended several miles inland. When
records were available to substantiate ownership
claims, these grants were recognized by both the Re-
public and State of Texas in later years.
Between 1767 and 1810, larger land grants were
made north of the Rio Grante beginning a little west of
present-day Wesiaco and including Mercedes, Ed-
couch, San Benito, Olmito, Brownsville, Raymondville,
Lyford and Port Isabel. Grants also were made north of
San Roman in Starr County. When settlers failed to ful-
fill the terms of their grants, the land reverted to the
crown as was the case of a number of grants in Zapata
Indian raids, especially by the Apaches and Coman-
ches, plagued the middle Rio Grande for almost a cen-
tury, but Nuevo Santander was a major success story in
the history of Spanish colonization and played a major
role in the development of the Lower Rio Grande Valley
and South Texas until the Rio Grande was established
as an international boundary. The early success is due
in great measure to the foundation laid by the wisdom
and talent of Jose de Escahdon.
TheJast half of the 18th century brought Spain's role
as an international power into decline, and the commu-
nities of the Rio Grande were affected. Spain's tightly
centralized government with ultimate power residing
in the crown was cumbersome at best. Decisions were
delayed as requests filtered through a bureaucratic
labyrinth, a trip across the Atlantic Ocean and back.
Often years would pass before any action was taken - if
any were taken. Too often the bureaucrats were incom-
petent, corrupt or both. And Spanish colonists, unlike
their American counterparts, did not always have the
freedom to leave an area if conditions deteriorated. All
these factors combined to generate great, if not always
expressed, dissatisfaction within the Spanish colonies.
But there were occasional bright spots.
Viceroy Bernardo de Galvez' Indian policy that
brought peace to the borderlands in 1786 was an exam-
ple of both the success and.frustration of Spanish rule.
For more than 20 years, the government had sought a
solution to the Indian depredations. Marques de Rubi
had surveyed frontier defenses in 1766 and recommend-
ed many changes. Jose de Galvez had reorganized ad-
ministration of the colonies at midcentury. But in the
middle of Hugo Oconor's reorganization of the defenses
the American Revolution intervened in 1777. Spain
joined France against the British in the colonial strug-
gle, and Spanish frontier policy retrenched. Finally
Galvez took charge. Although serving only a year be-
fore his untimely death in 1786, the experienced frontier
administrator conceived an Indian policy that brought
peace to much of the borderlands for two decades.
Galvez' policy was simple: Give the Indians a choice
between peace and war. Truces were unacceptable.
Once subdued, the Indians would be relocated near
military posts and provisioned. The Apaches were the
primary target, and Galvez plied them with liquor and
inferior firearms while indulging their love of trinkets.
And with this .approach, the Apaches were appeased.
Frontier defense was reduced to a matter of routine
Thanks to this policy, the El Paso area and the up-
per Rio Grande valley prospered somewhat in the latter
years of the 18th century. Indian depredations declined,
and Paso del Norte thrived on the north-south trade
from the interior of Mexico to Sante Fe. Several small
schools flourished in the area, enrolling 460 students in
grades 1-5 in 1800. Perhaps prosperity, did not reign, but
life was more comfortable.
And modest signs of progress were apparent. In
1797, the first bridge across the Rio Grande was com-
pleted to accommodate the mule and wagon trains of
traders. Periodic floods washed it away, however, and
the structure was rebuilt several times before mainte-
nance efforts were abandoned in 1819.
The winds of change that swept the interior of Mexi-
co when the revolution began in 1810 were only gentle
breezes in the El Paso area. Social conditions were
much different at this isolated way station on the route
to an even more remote colony. While the conflict be-
tween the gachupines (Spaniards from Spain), the
criollos (Spaniards born in the New World) and mesti-
zos (people of mixed blood) was violent and bloody in
Central Mexico, the disputes were hardly at issue in the
upper valley. The mestizos, abused and repressed else-
where, were not oppressed at Paso del Norte. Else-
where on the river frontier, life also was more egalitar-
ian. As one historian noted, men who faced the dangers
of Indian fights and other frontier hardships together
were hardly likely to be less than just in other
N the lower Rio Grande, the villages grew slowly,
but Indians were a constant menace. Lipan
Apaches harassed the area, until Col. Juan de
Ugalde led a force deep into Texas and soundly defeat-
ed a mixed group of Mescalero and Lipan Apaches, and
a peace treaty was concluded in 1791. Despite the differ-
ence in spelling, today's Uvalde County is named in the
This action quelled only the Apaches, however. De-
spite attempts to turn the Apaches against them, the
Comanches continued to raid and harass the Spanish
settlements intermittently for another 50 years. The Del
Rio area was first settled in 1808 when the mission San
Felipe Del Rio was established. But the Indian hostil-
ities soon forced the effort to be abandoned.
Early in the 19th century adversity forcefully re-
turned to the Rio Grande valley. Spain's financial and
political problems in Europe brought neg-
lect to the military on the frontier, and Indian hostilities
rekindled. Royal support of the missions was with-
drawn late in the 18th century, and the church was in
disarray. Only a handful of priests was left in the bor-
derlands when Spanish rule was overthrown. And at-
tempts at reform were futile and too late. The Spanish
parliament (Cortes) provided for a degree of local rep-
resentative government in the Constitution of 1812, and
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Texas Almanac, 1984-1985, book, 1983; Dallas, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth113817/m1/35/: accessed June 21, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas State Historical Association.